'I love the human side of art': Egyptian artist Hany Rashed

Nevine Lamei, Wednesday 14 Jun 2017

Visual artist Hany Rashed speaks of his youth, artistic style, his latest artworks and the revolution

Hany Rashed
Hany Rashed

Born in Cairo’s Haram neighbourhood, near the Pyramids of Giza, artist Hany Rashed is inspired by the colourful world and the kitsch feel of his mother’s family’s accessory stores near Al-Azhar.

Rashed lived a life balanced between two different worlds; that of his maternal family, scented with old history and incense, and the agricultural world of his paternal family, who is originally from Qalioubiya.

His father owned several flour mills, keeping close ties with the rural world.

“My father, who was also a self-taught artist, loved to draw with little bits of coal. He would draw homages to the 6 October War on the ovens and grinding machines. Using admirably arranged cigarette boxes, my father created beautiful installations, always evoking the 6 October War,” Rashed says.

Rashed, a nonconformist, draws inspiration from his father’s installations to express his opinion on the 25 January 2011 Revolution, and to mark this moment in the history of the country. He creates an installation titled Tahrir Square, with little figurines representing people’s silhouettes.

These wooden figurines are accompanied by the chaos of Cairo, the hubbub of the city and the voices of the people, all demanding the fall of the regime.

“Under Morsi’s government, I was unable to exhibit this installation. Then, with the help of Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafi cultural foundation, I showcased it in 2014 at the Station Gallery in Beirut, and at the Renaissance Museum in Bologna in 2015,” says Rashed.

“For the time being, it is difficult for the Egyptian public to speak of the 2011 Revolution and its painful memories. Perhaps with time it will become easier to showcase the Tahrir Square installation to a new generation who did not live through this revolution.”

These moments in history raise many questions for the artist, despite his support of the revolution.

He witnessed first-hand suppression under Mubarak’s regime, when the security apparatus suspended his People of Cairo exhibition at the Mashrabia gallery because he painted soldiers.

“I have to admit I was afraid. I even decided to stop painting soldiers for a while. It was imperative to rebel against this sort of situation. Yet, now I ask myself: how far have we come since the 25 January revolution? It is an unfinished revolution, started by a generation of young people who did not sufficiently believe in themselves.

Two powers led the country immediately afterwards: the Muslim Brotherhood and the army. Neither one, nor the other, could satisfy the demands of the youth in a corrupt and hypocritical society.”

He dreams of a better future for this country, which is suffering from an economic crisis.

“We support the army and its promises, but if the crisis persists, we need to find another solution, aside from revolts.”

As an artist, Rashed continues to explore the multiple facets of Egyptian life, good and bad, and with much irony.

Using collages and newspapers, he addresses relations between the East and the West, and how each perceives the other.

“My work often evokes the positive image of progress, of an ordered world where everything is in its place, but also a world tainted with political corruption and the media transmitting live images of violence,” he explains.

“Drawings, logos, old advertising posters found here and there, on Google or elsewhere, constitute a puzzle of the consumer society we live in, reminding us of pop art and audacious graffiti. My work is appreciated in the West, but I feel I do not have the same success in Egypt.”

Rashed’s work forms part of the private collection of the Tate Modern Gallery in London. He frequently holds exhibitions all around Europe.

In 2008, Rashed lived in Saint Gallen, Switzerland, and in 2009 he moved to the Villa Romana in Florence, Italy.

Nevertheless, he has never thought about permanently residing abroad.

“I find myself amid the chaos of [Egypt], the laid back attitude of its people… despite everything, this jumbled aspect allows a bit of freedom.”

Rashed started his career by working in television in 1990, after earning a degree in electrical engineering.

While on a shoot for a cultural programme on the Egyptian channel Nile TV, he met prominent artist Mohamed Abla.

“I owe much of my success to my master and idol Mohamed Abla, who taught me the secrets of the discipline. He took me under his wing when I was 18,” says the artist.

When Abla discovered Rashed’s doodles, which he would draw whenever he had some free time on the television set, he invited Rashed to visit his studio.

Rashed was living at the time in the old Musafir Khana building in Old Cairo, before it was ravaged by a fire.

“I found myself at Abla’s workshop; enchanted by the smell of paint. The place immediately fascinated me; with its mashrabiyas it reminded me of my childhood in Ghouriya with my mother’s family,” says Rashed.

“With a well-stocked bookcase and the meetings of artists and intellectuals speaking of the beauty of the city, I was in great company. Life in Abla’s workshop was completely different from that which I had led for years on the suffocating sets of national television: too much bureaucracy, artificiality, electric cables and floodlights.”

After years of training in Abla’s studio, from 1994 to 2004, having held his first solo exhibition in 1995, Rashed decided to quit his job in television and dedicate himself entirely to his art. He could no longer lead two lives.

On a personal level, the artist is of an agitated nature, at times worried, at times delighted, confused and unstable.

“My art is a mirror of my life. I share with my master of thought Mohamed Abla a love of experimentation when it comes to technique and subjects. I love the human side of art; art that represents society and common people,” says Rashed, who currently holds several workshops introducing young people to arts and crafts.

Rashed is holding a workshop exploring “paper trails” at Gypsum art gallery in Garden City until 22 June.

The artist has announced on his Facebook page several upcoming workshops he will hold at Soma Art and Ubuntu galleries in Zamalek, as well as Medrar gallery in Garden City, and Place des Arts gallery in Maadi.

He often advises students to let go of academicism and make way for creativity.

“I have no problem transmitting my technique (collage and monotype) or revealing its secrets to other people. Life is like a collage, easy to accommodate to one’s tastes, needs and moods,” says Rashed.

With scattered papers, paint tubes and glass plates, the workshops held by the artist overflow with life; disorder reigns.

“Disorder is needed to bring a little excitement to everyday life. Gouache lends itself to all temerities, monotype is the easiest technique to master for beginners. Kitsch is a visual language, representative of popular taste. I teach my students to represent the cultural identity to which they belong and address sociopolitical events with an open mind and a little irony,” says the painter.

After the 2011 Revolution, the artist created the comic character Assahbi (my friend), a sarcastic spokesperson for the youth.

In 2015, Rashed began to work on the theme of the Bulldozer, a character who directly denounces the omnipresent mediocrity.

Rashed’s latest coloured paintings, joyful and youthful, allow him to escape the sense of guilt he feels towards his late sister, who died in his arms at eleven months old 24 years ago due to medical negligence.

“To find inner peace, I attend psychological support sessions, which really helped me,” reveals Rashed.

Rashed’s new series of paintings show him riding a horse, galloping among the fields. His sister is seen at his side, embraced by her guardian angel. In this manner, he chases away his old demons.

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